How Ron DeSantis is using the literal devil to vilify liberals | #childsafety | #kids | #chldern | #parents | #schoolsafey

When “Fox & Friends” asked Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Memorial Day to distinguish his presidential candidacy from that of all the other Republicans running for president, he talked about what he’d eliminate: “I will serve two terms, and I will be able to destroy leftism in this country and leave woke ideology in the dustbin of history,” he said. 

DeSantis has adopted this promise — to destroy “wokeism” — like a family crest, emblazoned on every aspect of his push to become president. 

What DeSantis and others like him actually embrace is an anti-liberal demonology, the belief that a corrosive, wicked force is eating away at our most cherished institutions and values.

It might work. It might not. But this ideology, which DeSantis has claimed as his own, goes far beyond his presidential aspirations, and it isn’t going anywhere. It was born long before DeSantis adopted it, and if his campaign ultimately crashes and burns, someone else will pick up the shield and continue the war. 

Very often, this ideology is described in terms of what it’s attacking, namely, so-called wokeness, a phrase with its origins in Black political consciousness but lately swiped by American conservatives to refer to liberal ideology writ large. But even this definition is insufficient. What DeSantis and others like him actually embrace is an anti-liberal demonology, the belief that a corrosive, wicked force is eating away at our most cherished institutions and values. 

During his first presidential campaign rally, held at an evangelical church, DeSantis described this force as the “malignant ideology” of liberalism, one that most cleanly maps onto Democrats but can also include conservatives out of touch with “traditional” values, an accusation DeSantis has leveled against Trump, who he claims is “moving to the left” on key issues. 

By making this assertion, however dubious, DeSantis seeks to distinguish himself as a more reasonable alternative. For many, this is his appeal. He doesn’t  run around screaming about a stolen 2020 election and he doesn’t flirt with the QAnon contingent. He is Trump without the conspiracism — at least that’s the idea. 

In practice, the line between demonology and conspiracism isn’t so clear. For one thing, its gut-level feelings about an evil left animate many right-wing conspiracy theories, particularly those of the satanic panic variety. While hardcore QAnon believers might not particularly like DeSantis, the Q-curious can easily find footholds in DeSantis’ claims about pervasive threats to children. Demonology is also just as capable as outright conspiracism of fomenting violence, illustrated by increasing attacks at events like school board meetings and drag shows, all motivated by anti-woke fervor. 

Anti-liberal demonology can be subtle and euphemistic, centering on concerns about conservatives’ freedoms, child safety and parental choice. But it can also be explicitly satanic, positing an actual, incarnate evil. In either case, the dark force it conjures is impervious to pushback. How do you fact check someone’s hatred of the devil?  

DeSantis’ claims about the coming of the “woke” apocalypse — as he describes it, the “road to ruin” for the country — are simultaneously Christian and starkly unbiblical. They do not point to a Second Coming. They are not properly fatalist, the idea central to prophetic religious traditions that annihilation is inevitable and outside human control. They fall well short of theocratic aims of white Christian nationalism. The goal isn’t to cultivate a relationship with God. The goal is to fight the devil and that’s it. 

DeSantis emphasized this brand of Revelation-lite in a 2022 speech when he quoted a Bible verse urging conservatives to “put on the full armor of God” in order to “stand firm against the left’s schemes.” In the original verse, the enemy is the devil; replacing it with “the left” leaves little question as to what kind of enemy he’s saying this is. 

The label of “liberal” shifts as needed, and is defined primarily in terms of “not us.”

In this demonological worldview, ultimate evil is contrasted with ultimate good, embodied by a righteous “us” of conservative Christians — at least, a very particular kind of conservative and very particular kind of Christian. In our current book project, we argue that these versions of conservatism and Christianity, as well as the caricatures of liberalism they’re locked in cosmic battle with, are born of a quasi-religious shadow gospel whose roots can be traced to Cold War anticommunism and its panic over domestic leftist subversion. (Replace “woke libs” with “communists” and DeSantis could be mistaken for a 1950s red-baiter).   

The shadow gospel’s cleaving between ultimate good and ultimate evil isn’t a simple left-right split, however. The label “liberal” shifts as needed, and is defined primarily in terms of “not us.” Actual liberals are frequent and obvious targets of the shadow gospel’s demonology, but conservatives and Christians who in any way threaten “us” are just as easily put in league with the devil. Based on shadow gospel logic, even Trump can be a liberal. 

The consequence is that any form of criticism ropes that person in with “them,” reframing all dissent in partisan terms. You’re either with us or you’re with Satan; you’re either with us or you’re a Democrat, or at least are taking Democrats’ side, a rhetorical move that can take something like fact-checking or even the word “disinformation” and reposition it as proof of anti-conservative bias. 

In 2021, conspiracism as embodied by Trump delivered a mighty blow to American democracy. In 2024, it remains a major concern. But the demonology as embodied by DeSantis is dangerous in a different way. What anti-liberal demonology does is assert that there is only one way to be a “real” American — namely, to be the right kind of conservative and the right kind of Christian. Whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, Christian or non-Christian, if you fail to meet the requirements, you are literally demonized. Once that happens, any and all attacks using information, violence or professional retribution, like those currently being leveled against disinformation researchers, aren’t just justified, they are necessary. 

In the never-ending end-times, it’s not enough to identify evil. You have to exorcize that evil by any means necessary. This is the corrosive force threatening our democracy, not the left, not “wokeness.” It needs to be called out. And the first step is calling it what it is.     


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